News Story

Stirring the Ashes: Outdoor Smoking Bill Rekindles Smoking Ban Debate

Bipartisan bill would restore some property rights

Restaurants and bars would have the option of allowing smoking on patios and other outdoor portions of their businesses under bipartisan legislation recently introduced in the state Legislature.

"I think this something businesses should be able to offer if they choose to," said Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, the sponsor of House Bill 5159. "People step outside to smoke now anyway.

"I am not a smoker, but to me this is an issue of liberty and property rights," Rep. McMillin continued. "That's why I didn't support the smoking ban legislation when it was in the House. If I was in one of these areas with my children and someone started smoking, I'd go someplace else. I believe that's a choice we always have."

Michigan's smoking ban was signed into law by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Dec. 18, 2009, and took effect May 1, 2010. Under the law, smoking was banned in all public places including workplaces, restaurants and bars.

A key development in Lansing that helped lead to the Legislature's passage of the ban came when the Michigan Restaurant Association took the position that ban or no ban, all bars and restaurants should be treated the same. Basically, the restaurant association told lawmakers there should be no differentiation between restaurants that generally cater to quick in and out customers, and bars and other businesses with established customer bases that often included a high percentage of smokers.

The association, which primarily represents restaurants, is taking the same approach in regard to the outdoor patio smoking issue. Restaurant association spokesman Justin Winslow said the group opposes House Bill 5159 on the basis that the smoking ban is in place and no special exceptions should be made.

"We believe this legislation is well intentioned," Winslow said. "However, at this point we all know that the ban exists and has been established. We support letting us all compete evenly."

Meanwhile, the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, which primarily represents bars and taverns, supports the measure.

"Our position has always been that our members should have the right to determine issues like this themselves," said Jennifer Kluge, spokesperson for food and beverage association. "Many of our members are interested in this. If a facility wants to allow this, it should be their right to choose."

House Bill 5159 has been assigned to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

The measure has bipartisan support. Rep. Harold Haugh, D-Roseville, Rep. Douglas Geiss, D-Taylor, and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who is the committee vice chair, are cosponsors of the bill. Rep. Haugh is the ranking Democrat on the House Regulatory Reform Committee. 

"There haven't been any hearings scheduled on the bill yet," Rep. McMillin said. "But I'm hoping we can get a good discussion going on the issue."

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.